Christmas Adjournment debate: Infrastructure investment

Peter Aldous takes the opportunity of the Christmas adjournment debate to highlight the importance of investment in infrastructure in East Anglia which will act as a catalyst for job creation and regeneration.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): May I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the House a happy Christmas and a peaceful new year?

As a chartered surveyor and an East Anglian representing a Suffolk constituency, the provision of infrastructure takes up a lot of my time. That has been the case not just over the past seven months, but over the past 27 years. Two things that I find myself saying with great regularity are, "We don't do infrastructure well in the UK" and, in an East Anglian context, "We talk about infrastructure a lot because we don't have any." The nearest motorway to my constituency of Waveney is in Holland, and Lowestoft has been waiting 75 years for a third crossing over the water that divides the town.

Infrastructure and job creation go hand in hand. A good transport system is a prerequisite for sustained economic growth and, conversely, poor infrastructure and congestion hold back growth and the creation of jobs. Historically over the centuries, Britain has had a great record of inventing and building world-class infrastructure that underpinned economic growth, whether the creation of the canal network, the engineering work of Brunel, or the building of the railways and the London underground. More recently, our track record has been poor. There has been no long-term strategic framework, projects have the gestation period of an elephant, and to many it appears that Britain has ground to a halt, as we sit in traffic jams and wait for trains that never arrive-and, at present, planes that do not fly.

In the past, local highway authorities pursued an ongoing programme of continually improving the local road network such as through regularly building bypasses and relief roads around market towns. They stopped pursuing such an approach 20 years ago. The result, in East Anglia at least, is that there is a large backlog of work to be carried out on such schemes as the Beccles southern relief road in my constituency, the Brandon bypass in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), and the Long Stratton bypass in south Norfolk.

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): The Brandon bypass was mentioned in my predecessor's maiden speech in 1992 as an urgent priority for the link between Suffolk and Norfolk. Although some progress has been made since, no ground has been dug. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is an awful long time to wait?

Peter Aldous: My hon. Friend very much proves my point. There is a need for local highways authorities to be given greater autonomy to carry out local projects. The geography of East Anglia is such that, in many respects, the provision of good infrastructure is not easy. Ours is a sparsely populated area, with relatively small regional centres, such as Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester, interspersed with coastal and market towns, and myriad villages. Today, the case for providing good infrastructure in East Anglia is compelling. There is a need for good roads, as East Anglia has a greater reliance on private vehicles than any other UK region. The area is relatively inaccessible compared with similar regions around the world with which we are competing for inward investment. Despite those drawbacks and the relative inadequacy of infrastructure in East Anglia, its economy performs extremely well. In terms of gross domestic product, it is the third top performing region after London and the south-east, and is a positive contributor to the Exchequer. With proper investment, East Anglia could contribute a great deal more.

The time is right for Britain to resume its role as a world leader in the provision of infrastructure. I have read the Treasury's national infrastructure plan, which was published in October, so I know that the Government's policies appear to be pointing in the right direction, but they now need to see them through. The UK is one of the most expensive countries in which to build infrastructure, with engineering works here costing 60% more than they do in Germany. In East Anglia, we have the opportunity to provide a 21st century infrastructure model, and I will conclude by outlining its main features.

First, we need to tackle the pinch points on the roads and railways. I welcome the support that the Government have already given to the dualling of the final 9 miles of single carriageway on the A11 and the improvements to the Felixstowe to Nuneaton freight railway line. Both those projects will bring undoubted benefits to the region and will lead to the creation of new jobs. Other projects, some of which are in my constituency, will have similar benefits. The Beccles loop on the east Suffolk railway line, which the Government are supporting, will improve accessibility, as will the other two schemes that I have mentioned-the Beccles southern relief road and the third crossing in Lowestoft. The southern relief road will open up commercial land for development and will remove lorries from the town centre, thereby enhancing the town's attraction as a shopping centre. The third crossing will have similar benefits for Lowestoft; it will open up commercial sites and help the regeneration of the town centre by reducing congestion. It will act as a catalyst for increased regeneration activity and for further investment in Lowestoft, providing an opportunity to create a perception of a positive and business-friendly location. It will enable Lowestoft to realise its full potential as an international centre for renewable energy.

There is also a need to invest in the infrastructure necessary for the energy sector to thrive. That means upgrading the electricity network, with a new offshore grid, greater interconnection with Europe and a smart grid and smart metering. The provision of superfast broadband across Suffolk and the rest of East Anglia is of crucial importance to the creation of jobs, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas. The Government's broadband strategy, which was published last month, goes a long way in setting out how that can be achieved. Suffolk needs to be in the next round of broadband pilots and I, like my fellow Suffolk MPs, will be campaigning hard for its inclusion.

Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the current state of broadband in Norfolk and Suffolk is not acceptable and is holding businesses back? In particular, some villages are complete "not spots", where broadband cannot be accessed.

Peter Aldous: I agree entirely with that observation. The other Suffolk MPs and I are building on the strategy that has been put forward by Suffolk businesses, and we will take full advantage of the presence in the county of BT, which owns much of the infrastructure and has its research centre at Martlesham. Suffolk offers a unique opportunity for BT to show what can be done in delivering comprehensive high-speed coverage across the whole county, including in those hard-to-reach areas. To move the situation forward in Suffolk, BT needs to provide information on exactly when it intends to intervene and which exchanges in Suffolk it will upgrade. That will allow other, smaller providers to work on a bottom-up basis to consider which of the remaining areas they will be able to reach.

My Christmas message to the Government is to thank them for providing the framework for a 21st century infrastructure, and to urge them to make the necessary investment in East Anglia, so that we can play our part in securing the recovery, rebalancing the economy and creating new private sector jobs.

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